Photograph: noun pho·to·graph \ ˈfō-tə-ˌgraf \ a picture or likeness obtained by photography.
The definition sounds so simple. Yet a photograph is so much more.
A photograph is a frame of time put into deep freeze. For that instance, time stopped with the click of a camera shutter. Immediately thereafter, movement commenced again and the moment was over. But, on the roll of film inside that camera, that moment was frozen in latency until developed.
I pick up a picture and I see a birthday party. Then, hear the laughter, smell the candle smoke and taste the sugary, sweet icing. Its only a glimpse. Only enough for you to miss them and wish you could remember all the details.
You scan the image, noticing details...I can see my grandfather smiling as he looks at the horribly decorated cake. Applied with so many decorations and so many candles you could hardly see the top. But, you could see it in his face. He was overjoyed to be with his daughter and her family. To share one of the few birthdays left on his calendar with family. I look around some more and can smell the instant decaf coffee. I notice my grandfathers huge bow tie and know that it fits him well - he was a cut up and loved to have fun. A trait my mother and many of my siblings carried on.
The cake is glowing with light. It bounces and reflects onto the walls in the room. Seeming to resemble a joyous ensemble of spirits dancing for the occasion. My grandfather takes a big breath, he blows towards the cake and there is darkness.
And even if the images are black and white, I still see them in color. I still remember snuggling with my little brother Craig on that old couch in our den. Watching cartoons on a Saturday morning before our parents got up and eventually smelling pancakes and sausages cooking on the griddle in the kitchen. Saturdays were an exciting day and this would be the only gap where we'd be sitting still on the couch. Immediately after breakfast we were playing outside!
I wasn't around for this picture. It happened probably at least a decade before I was born. But, I love it all the same. That's my mom, third from the left and my dad with the pumpkin head and pipe. By their expressions (those that I can see) they look like they are having a pretty good time. These are probably staff from the Ohio State University Medical Center where my father worked at the time as a medical illustrator. I can smell cigarette smoke and bourbon, hear laughter...loud boisterous laughter that only occurs after a few high alcohol drinks are ingested. Condensation drips down the metal glasses and dampens the napkin wrapped around it.
I often wonder if when we die, does the world freeze like these images? Does time stop and we live in the era we left the mortal world for eternity? Do all new events simply not exist in our world?
I think of my younger brother who died of a massive heart attack in the summer of 2001. He never knew of the sadness that occurred on September 11th of that same year. He never knew of the iPod, iPhone or any of the technological changes that were to come, he never heard of Hurricane Katrina, Google and a host of other changes that have happened. He didn't say hello to his great nieces or say goodbye to his mother when she passed in 2013.
The old saying "A pictures tells a thousand words" is very true. Yet, I think it tells many more than that.
That's my older brother Eric with his 4-H Polled Hereford named Rusty. When this picture was taken Rusty was probably close to the age when he would have to go to market. Rusty was like a big dog to my brother, he was a pet and because he was raised alone with a family, he became very tame. It crushed my brother when he had to say goodbye. In this picture, my mom or one of my siblings stood off to the side to get Rusty to look and pose. I can hear then making noises to get his ears perked and an alert stance. I can smell the freshly mowed grass and hear a robin chirping high above in one of the many oaks and maples.
In Wisconsin, during my childhood, the 4-H fair in Waukesha was a big deal. Kids would raise farm animals and enter them in the fair for ribbons. I can remember how interesting it was to see all the different varieties of chickens, rabbits, cows and horses. Then, to sit on a grassy hill outside the old barns where everything was housed and watch fireworks before it was time to head home.
I love this picture of my father and a friend. My father is in the front and I can see movement, lots of it. I can see the horse jumping around. The two men laughing and trying to keep from being knocked off. I can hear the horse snorting, the stomping of the hoofs in the dirt. What really grabs me about this picture is seeing my dad so alive, so young. When I was growing up, he was always so stern. The Marine sergeant who rarely smiled. But, here he is, laughing and enjoying life. Frozen in time. Frozen as a young man.
So, I look back through this box full of old pictures and visualize the past. Frozen with the click of a shutter. Mixed inside a box with pictures from different times and different places; with variety like that of a healthy salad. All mixed together, serving as a placeholder for a memory as long as we can remember.